Rethinking Indigenous housing: New report pushes for change

Study calls for investment in culturally-sensitive housing

Rethinking Indigenous housing: New report pushes for change

Addressing the housing crisis in Indigenous communities requires a more holistic approach that incorporates cultural, health, and energy-efficiency considerations, according to a new study.

The report, produced in collaboration with the Canadian Climate Institute and Indigenous Clean Energy, introduces the concept of “healthy energy homes,” which are designed to be efficient, climate adaptive, and supportive of well-being.

The report advocated for housing solutions that are tailored to each nation rather than adhering to a universal standard like net-zero or passive housing.

“Creating that space for culture and doing things in a way that makes sense for the community is crucial,” said Janna Wale, a co-author of the report, in an interview with Canada’s National Observer.

As an example, the report highlights the Nuxalk Nation’s new house design in Bella Coola, British Columbia. Ian Scholten, another co-author, explained that this design includes a separate kitchen for preparing wild game and salmon, which helps control moisture levels in the home.

The concept of Indigenous-led housing contrasts sharply with the historical impact of colonialism and systemic discrimination, which the report identifies as key factors in the current housing crisis.

Read more: CMHC backs Indigenous housing design project

Traditional housing forms like wigwams, igloos, and big houses were destroyed by generations of colonial policies, leading to the current inadequate state of on-reserve housing.

Currently, on-reserve housing often falls short of standards elsewhere in Canada. Recent studies indicate that the average lifespan of on-reserve homes is significantly shorter than off-reserve housing, with estimates ranging from eight to 15 years compared to 35 years off-reserve.

“As a result, rather than growing the stock of available housing to reduce overcrowding, communities are simply replacing existing homes,” the report said.

Cultural values also play a critical role in housing adequacy. For instance, while eight or nine people living in one house might not constitute overcrowding in a community that values intergenerational living, such arrangements often do not align with the design of many Indigenous homes.

“[The housing crisis in Indigenous nations] needs to be addressed holistically,” Scholten said. “[It] can't just be about allocating money to build the same kind of homes. We need to think differently about how this works at the community level.”

The Assembly of First Nations reported last year that approximately $135 billion is needed to bring First Nations housing up to the standards of non-First Nations communities. However, the federal government has allocated only $6.3 billion over seven years.

The co-authors noted that a final report with policy recommendations is expected next year.

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